COMMENTARY

Physicians on the Take

Jerome P. Kassirer, MD

Disclosures

March 20, 2006

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In my view, relations between physicians and industry have become scandalous.[1] Many academics and community opinion leaders are paid large sums to market industry products by becoming members of speaker's bureaus, by developing marketing materials disguised as educational information, by signing articles written by ghostwriters, and by promoting the off-label use of products. These activities may benefit companies' shareholders, but they do not benefit patients, and because the products promoted are usually the newest and most expensive, they inflate the cost of care.

Though physicians who engage in these activities often believe that company largesse cannot influence their objectivity, all evidence from psychological studies suggests that this is a naive belief.[2] Aside from the harm of such biases to patient care, participation in marketing sets a poor example for younger physicians, who are being seduced by industry every day with lunches, dinners, and gifts. The public has become increasingly aware that doctors are making financial "deals" with pharmaceutical, biotech, and device companies. People are beginning to lose trust that their doctors' advice is for their benefit rather than for their doctors' benefit.

The profession's response to the increasing involvement with industry has been feeble.[3] Our professional organizations and academic medical centers must take a leadership role in reversing this troublesome trend by reducing or eliminating pharmaceutical largesse at their institutions.

That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Jerome Kassirer, Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Tufts University and former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.


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